Sunday, December 03, 2017

Is Dis-Inter-Mediation Necessarily A Bad Thing?


theatlantic  |  Agony is the natural state of the news industry. Newspaper sales per capita peaked before color television was a thing, and magazines have been in decline since the Clinton administration. When it comes to the finances of the Fourth Estate, bad news is, generally speaking, the news.

But 2017 has been a uniquely miserable year in the media business, in which venerable publications and fledging sites, divided by audience age and editorial style, have been united in misery. At Vanity Fair, the editorial budget faces a 30 percent cut. At The New York Times, advertising revenue is down $20 million annually after nine months. Oath, the offspring of Yahoo and AOL’s union, is shedding more than 500 positions as it strains to fit inside of its Verizon conglomerate. Meanwhile, almost every digital publisher seems to be struggling, selling, or soliciting, whether it’s the media company IAC exploring offers to offload The Daily Beast, Fusion Media Group offering a minority stake in The Onion and former Gawker Media sites, or Mashable selling for a fifth of its former valuation. So many media companies in 2017 have reoriented their budgets around the production of videos that the so-called “pivot to video” has became an industry joke. Today, the pivot seems less like a business strategy and more like end-of-life estate planning.

Even the crown princes of digital upstarts, Vice and BuzzFeed, are projected to miss their revenue targets by 20 percent each, which amounts to a combined shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars. Finally, this week, Time Inc., the storied publisher of magazines and websites, including People, Sports Illustrated, and Time, announced it had reached an agreement to be sold to the Meredith Corporation, whose focus on lifestyle is inspiring rumors that it may yet offload or even shut down Time, Fortune, and Money.

What on Earth is going on? There are at least three major trends contributing to this dismal media moment. They all point to the same solution, and it’s something everyone in journalism should know by now: News publishers have to get better at making money outside of advertising.